Former England coach Stuart Lancaster believes Wales have been under-estimated and has warned Ireland could be “carved up” in Dublin next week.
Lancaster, now a coaching advisor with Leinster, believes the Six Nations championship is still wide open, despite only Ireland and England remaining unbeaten after two rounds.
Wales visit Ireland next Saturday, while England go to Murrayfield to face a Scotland team buoyed by their victory over France.
Lancaster has recent painful memories of defeat to Welsh teams. Not only was he replaced by Eddie Jones shortly after his disastrous 2015 World Cup defeat to Wales, but he also suffered with Leinster when they were beaten by the Scarlets in last year’s Guinness Pro14 play-off semi-final.
After seeing Wales lose narrowly at Twickenham and Ireland thrash Italy, he said: “People underestimate how good Wales are defensively and how good they are in attack.
“You saw how well they played in the second half against England and on a dry day, they can carve teams up.
I think Ireland will 100 per cent only have their focus on Wales. We saw it when we (Leinster) played Scarlets last year in the PRO14 semi last year.
“I don’t think England will be getting too far ahead of themselves, either, they have to go to Scotland and win, to France and win, two difficult away games.
“But I thought Ireland played really well, it was definitely a step up at the weekend against Italy.
“They were really sharp in the first half in particular. England had a really good first half, Wales came back but England probably edged it”.
Ireland have injury problems at centre ahead of their match against Wales, with Robbie Henshaw damaging a shoulder against the Italians that has sidelined him for the rest of the tournament.
With Garry Ringrose still unfit, the most likely combination to face Wales will be Bundee Aki and Chris Farrell, the Munster centre who earned his first of two Ireland caps last autumn.
But Lancaster believes Ireland will pose a formidable challenge as they seek a 10th straight victory since they last lost to Wales a year ago – a sequence that includes wins over England, South Africa and France.
“There’s a huge confidence that the Irish players have from playing at the Aviva, they’ve had a lot of success there and a lot of memories.
“That drives standards, expectation and the desire to want to win.
“I think they’re very difficult to beat, but to be a champion team you’ve got to win at home and away.
“It shows the mark of the team – the maturity of the Irish team – that without playing brilliantly against France that they found a way to win. They deserved it, really.
“To do what they did with the culmination of the Johnny (Sexton) drop-goal was exceptional really and shows how far the squad has matured.
“All teams go through ups and downs, defeats and wins and Ireland have had one or two losses along the way but they look a very, very accomplished team at the moment.”